The U.S. and China: The trade war and the broader confrontation

Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald Trump walk toward the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, capital of China, Nov. 9, 2017
Not just trade differences have made the U.S.-China relationship so frosty (source: dpa)
  • The U.S.-China “trade war” could last 20 years
  • The confrontation is part of a greater strategic competition
  • The adversarial nature of the relationship is likely to intensify

The tussle between the United States and China has so far, ostensibly, been about trade. It began early this year with American tariffs on solar panels and washing machines against cheaper rivals from South Korea, China and elsewhere. But by mid-2018, China had naturally become the principal target in a wider and more intense tit-for-tat on tariffs.

Seen from this perspective, it is clear the so-called “trade war” was always going to be about more than just the exchange of goods and services. At issue is a strategic competition between the U.S. and China. Confrontations will occur, but thus far they have been conducted by means other than war. This contest will determine the direction of international affairs for the first half of the 21st century.

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